Soil is the primary system from which the plant lives and absorbs water and critical nutrients from. Let’s understand the dirt so we can learn how to provide the best soil for coffee.
rt, Soil is actually alive, an ecosystem in itself. Think of soil as a container holding the essential nutrients of life. If you begin taking out more than can be replenished the system fails.
So it’s important to understand how soil interacts with your coffee plants.
Soil and coffee are both living things that interact with each other. Your soil provides nutrients, footing, water holding abilities and protection to your plant.
If we make sure that soils are the proper mix, giving the plant plenty of organic matter, moisture, aeration, nutrients and cover. We can ensure a healthy productive plant, giving you the best cup of coffee that you can grow.
This site isn’t just about growing coffee beans but it’s about growing GOOD coffee beans.
According to Luis Álvarez many coffee farmers in central america are not properly trained on providing the best soil conditions for coffee to really thrive. Soil has a major impact on the final outcome of your coffee. That’s why this “dirt stuff” is so important to understand.
There is nothing like a good cup of coffee in the morning.
Quick note, if You are planting in the ground remember each location has its own regionally specific conditions. Meaning available nutrients and structure will vary.
For this reason you should get your soil tested. Lots of counties in the united states have local county extension offices that you can take a sample to and they can test it for you. Search in google to see if your county has a local extension office close by.
Such a small number of us have a good natural habitat for coffee I would assume most of us are going to make a mix to pot it in.
Either way this guide will inform you about the perfect soil conditions for coffee. Let’s Dive in!
Generally most of the nutrients of your soil are lost in harvesting, erosion and leaching from watering.Usually when looking at a bag of compost or a fertilizer, you will see three numbers. Each number represents the amount of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium that’s available in that bag, in that order. These are the most basic nutrients your soil needs to provide to your coffee plant.
Commonly referred to as N-P-K.Each nutrient does something different for your plant. A little sentence I use to remember what each nutrient is used for is this: “up, down , all around.”
Nitrogen(n) is one of the most important macro nutrients, as it is used for essential functions such as photosynthesis and new tissue production, among a long list of other processes.
Phosphorous(p) contributes to healthy root growth and flower production. Phosphorous helps you plant convert nutrients into usable building blocks. Phosphorous is an especially important nutrient in the soil for younger coffee plants.
Potassium(k) is essential to overall plant health. Having proper amounts of potassium give you better fruit quality and a more disease resistant plant.
There is a long list of macro nutrients, not just nitrogen(n),phosphorous(p), and potassium (k) , although these are the major ones.
There are also micro nutrients that coffea arabica gets from its soil.
These nutrients are zinc, magnesium,boron,copper and iron. Total there are 16 nutrients(macro+micro) that your plant need to fully thrive and optimize your coffee.
For micro nutrients you need less of a quantity of them but that does not make them any less important.
Iron is essential to a healthy soil for your coffee plant. A great way to insure that your plant receives a good amount of iron is through proper soil additives such as lava rock.
I will give you the soil mix I recommend to grow a great coffee in a few more paragraphs.Until then I will give you a few more essential tips to making the perfect soil for coffea arabica.
An important factor in a healthy soil is PH. The PH of the soil is what actually determines how easily a plant is able to withdraw nutrients. If the soil PH is out of balance the soil holds on to the nutrients tighter, making it harder for the plant to absorb them. Soil Ph is a measure of the acidity and alkalinity in the soil. The ph scale starts at 0 and goes to 14, with 7 being neutral. Anything below 7 is acidic and anything above is alkaline.
If planting directly into the ground, soil PH is incredibly hard to change from what it naturally is. This is because soil Ph is affected by what the soil is made up of. So if you’re planting directly in the ground, be sure to get it tested. You can buy a soil test kit to check the PH. But the other features are kinda pointless, these can not, in my opinion test accurate numbers of the nutrients in the soil. You would also need to test the actual plant tissue to get a completely accurate reading.
That’s just my two cents on those types of tests.
So, since soil ph is affected by the materials used we can pick specific mediums to use to create a perfect environment for coffee arabica if planting into a container or raised bed.
Coffee prefers slightly acid soil but has been known to grow in range of soil Ph conditions from 4-7. The ideal number we are shooting for when it comes to the perfect soil for coffee is 6 – 6.5.
Proper soil structure refers to the way that particles in the soil such as sand,silt,clay and other organic material are arranged. How do they interact with each other? Have they been compacted leaving very little space in between them? Think about a soil made of mostly clay and how compacted it can be. Hard as a rock and takes forever to drain,It just will not let water through very easily.
Clay is an example of a poor soil structure that coffee could not really thrive in.Having a soil structure that is so compacted can also increase erosion. all that great water that coffee loves isn’t able to penetrate the ground because of the compacted soil structure.
Soil structure affects water retention and absorption.
Having a soil structure that is too loose isn’t the way to go either. If your soil is mostly sand you will have a hard time keeping up on watering and fertilizing your plants. All of your water will flow out of your soil too quickly for the plant to utilize it.That goes for nutrients as well. The soil structure doesn’t allow for water or nutrient holding. There is too much air flow and not enough holding capacity.
Coffee prefers a soil with plenty of organic matter which helps the soil grip onto water and nutrients. Another great addition that not only helps provide essential nutrients to the plant but also help with drainage of the soil is lava rock.Lava rock is an additive that mimics the soil of coffee arabicas native soil. It’s all about having a perfect balance, creating a nice loamy soil. Which basically means to have the best aspects of water retention and drainage. Holds onto water but is also light and fluffy.
Another thing that us as home coffee growers don’t have to worry about as much as commercial farmers is top soil erosion which can be a major issue in the production of good coffee.
The top soil is where all the nutrients that the plant loves and needs are held. Lots of coffee plantations are on mountain ranges and slopes and when heavy rainfall comes through lots of good stuff like the top soil gets washed away. Heavy equipment use such as tractors for harvest also contribute to top soil erosion.If this is continued eventually the soil will not be able to sustain the plants that it is living with.
If you are container or bed gardening, putting down a nice thick layer of mulch to protect your soil and help with water retention is a super easy and effective step to help provide a perfect environment to grow the best coffee. You don’t have to go up to your local box store to buy mulch either. My favorite mulch to use is fallen leaves from trees! There are bags of leaves at your neighbor’s curb everyday if you search a little.
It’s a perfect sustainable and FREE mulch source.
That’s another Advantage that we have as a home coffee grower compared to your standard farmer.
The perfect soil mix for coffee
For me personally I have noticed the best results with a mix of:
And the special ingredient, volcanic rock dust.
Lava rock is usually used as a decorative touch, Laid down on top of the soil almost like a mulch. When you get lava rocks normally they come in big chunks, I like to crush those bigger chunks on the ground turning them almost into a dust.
I like to put equal parts of these things together watering lightly as I mix.
I believe this mixture provides adequate amounts of nutrients while mimicking the natural soil for coffee. This natural environment promotes healthy and vigorous growth all around.
Peat moss is naturally acidic providing a good ph level for the plant as well as helping with water retention. Compost is adding plenty of organic material as well as nutrients, while also giving the soil extra water retention.
Vermiculite is for a good soil structure, giving the soil proper aeration and flow.
And finally, Lava rock . This special ingredient is a good additive for coffee arabica because it provides plenty of iron and other micronutrients that the plant needs to really thrive while giving a perfect balance of soil structure.
So, the overall Ideal soil will have plenty of nutrients available to the plant while having good water retention but at the same time have a balance of aeration and flow.(Not so much to ask for right?!)
This will give a perfect environment for the roots to absorb all those nutrients in there and really expand out and grow. Also remember that soil isn’t just dirt it’s a living thing and we must invite plenty of good life to be living in our soil with plenty of organic material.
If you have any other questions about growing coffee don’t be afraid to send them this way, either in the comments below or through email!